Changing Face of the Professional Buyer

Blog 1: Changing Profile of the Buyer

By Mark Erskine, Director & Owner, Seller Performance Ltd

Whatever market sector you are in when selling, no one can have escaped the fact that the buying process has changed.  Sales people traditionally have sold to “user buyers” – those responsible for the day-to-day use or supervision of the product or service you are selling. After all they needed to be convinced that it would do the job or solve the problem they were encountering. The ability to build trust and develop relationships with user buyers was a key part of winning deals as were effective selling skills – great questioning and listening skills, influencing skills, objection handling , negotiating and closing.

But for many years now we have seen the rise of “professional buyers” in the form of procurement functions. Their role and influence has grown so much that in many ways the sales process…what most sales trainers teach…has become near redundant…as the buying process has taken over. Professional buyers have quotas to attain – the savings they need to generate to cover the overhead cost of their function.  They have developed professional buying techniques to counter sales skills.  They are also tasked with managing a whiter than white, compliant process that ensures fairness and equality which stands up to legal scrutiny.

To run this process effectively means eliminating any subjectivity or emotion in the buying  process to make logical, rational and defensible buying decisions.  You will find a number of major UK businesses changing their Procurement category managers every six months to ensure relationships are not forged – after all that could mean unacceptable emotive decisions and increased supplier margins.  Whilst everyone, whatever job function they do, has a unique behavioural profile, procurement professionals like other roles typically have similar preferred styles or “orientations”. After all we tend to select and gravitate to roles that allow us to capitalise on our natural strengths.

The LIFO® circumplex diagram (diagram 1) shows the four orientations we all possess in a unique blend. However, we all typically have behavioural preferences and orientations we neglect or under use. Behavioural profiling wheel 2

It is easy to identify that most procurement professionals will most likely prefer the “Conserving” orientation – process, method, structure, detail focus, rational, planned and organised. By contrast sales people traditionally would combine “Adapting” and “Controlling” – one eye on the relationship, enthusiastic, resourceful, flexible to meet the needs of the customer (Adapting) but with a competitive drive to get results, make things happen, persuade and influence assertively (Controlling).

These preferred “orientations” were all well and good when dealing with “user buyers” who would often share these characteristics. But when dealing with a “Conserving” style they share little in common. Sellers were big picture relationship focused whilst buyers are detailed objective and rational. Extrovert versus introvert. Open and flexible versus guarded and reserved.  Most sales people don’t normally relish process and structure in the way they do their job. The contrasting orientations of the roles of sales and procurement are diametrically opposite and as a result these types of people don’t connect easily – they share different values, beliefs and attitudes.

As a Sales Manager / Director for over 20 years, I always believed the most important part of my job was to recruit and then develop the best sales people I could find. Using the LIFO® model I would look for a classic combination of “Controlling and Adapting” for my new business people and a blend of “Supporting and Controlling” for my account managers.  However, in the past few years, it became clear that this “selling” profile model no longer provided a match to the role requirements. The world of sales has changed and evolved. As an industry, we need to be more intelligent and adaptive.

Keep an eye out for this week’s exclusive series of daily blogs, which will delve further into the changing sales landscape and the powerful role neuroscience and behavioural profiling can play in its future. Comments and feedback welcome.

Mark ErskineBlog 1: Changing Profile of the Buyer